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Keywords:

  • faecal pellet;
  • genotyping error;
  • mammal;
  • microsatellite;
  • mitochondria;
  • sex

Abstract

The koala, an Australian icon, has been added to the threatened species list. Rationale for the listing includes proposed declines in population size, threats to populations (e.g. disease) and loss and fragmentation of habitat. There is now an urgent need to obtain accurate data to assess the status of koala populations in Australia, to ensure the long-term viability of this species. Advances in genetic techniques have enabled DNA analysis to study and inform the management of wild populations; however, sampling of individual koalas is difficult in tall, often remote, eucalypt forest. The collection of faecal pellets (scats) from the forest floor presents an opportunistic sampling strategy, where DNA can be collected without capturing or even sighting an individual. Obtaining DNA via noninvasive sampling can be used to rapidly sample a large proportion of a population; however, DNA from noninvasively collected samples is often degraded. Factors influencing DNA quality and quantity include environmental exposure, diet and methods of sample collection, storage and DNA isolation. Reduced DNA quality and quantity can introduce genotyping errors and provide inaccurate DNA profiles, reducing confidence in the ability of such data to inform management/conservation strategies. Here, we present a protocol that produces a reliable individual koala genotype from a single faecal pellet and highlight the importance of optimizing DNA isolation and analysis for the species of interest. This method could readily be adapted for genetic studies of mammals other than koalas, particularly those whose diet contains high proportions of volatile materials that are likely to induce DNA damage.